Councillors Doug Ford and Mike Del Grande at a budget committee meeting, January 9 / Ben Spurr
City accountability watchdogs are overburdened and under funded, to the point of being unable to fully perform their duties.
So said the watchdogs themselves at a budget committee meeting Thursday, where their office expenditures were the subject of a line-by-line review by committee members.
The integrity commissioner, ombudsman, and lobbyist registrar all reported that their workloads are increasing and they're struggling to keep up.
"There are many issues that we could be investigating that we cannot," ombudsman Fiona Crean told councillors. "It's fair to say that [for every] three things we look at, there are probably eight behind us that we can't look at."
"City council has not given me the staff resources I need to do the job."
Crean said her office, which investigates allegations of unfairness against public servants, receives 1,500 complaints a year, and she expects that workload to increase in both volume and complexity in 2013. Already, overtime has become routine for her office's 10 employees, and she's had to hire an outside consultant to pick up the slack.
Integrity commissioner Janet Leiper, who fields complaints against council members and city boards, painted a similar picture. She said formal grievances have doubled since last year, and informal ones have tripled. Her position is officially part-time, but she says she often works five days a week in order to keep pace.
Lobbyist registrar Linda L. Gehrke has also seen her workload expand dramatically. She says that since 2010, the year Rob Ford took office, lobbying at City Hall has increased roughly 30 per annually, and she now monitors 1,200 active lobbyists at any given time.
All three women said they planned to request more money for their 2013 budgets in order to hire more staff or enable existing employees to work longer hours.
Thursday's line-by-line reviews come in the wake of high-profile reports from both the integrity commissioner and the ombudsman that heavily criticized Mayor Ford's administration.
Del Grande said the line-by-line reviews were nothing unusual, and he had done the same with dozens of other departments behind closed doors in the run up to the 2013 budget process.
Crean said she and the other accountability officers requested their reviews be done publicly at Thursday's meeting, for reasons of transparency.
The accountability officers won't make any formal application for increases until next month, when the 2013 budget process begins in earnest.
Although their offices are relatively small - at an estimated cost of $1.4 million in 2012, the ombudsman's is the largest - the trio's requests aren't likely to get much support from the budget committee. Budget chair Councillor Mike Del Grande is asking all city departments for a zero per cent increase over their 2012 budgets next year.
Councillor Doug Ford, who sits on the budget committee, says he will oppose any additional funding for the ombudsman's office.
At Thursday's meeting Ford took issue with a trip Crean took to Azerbaijan in June, where she was the keynote speaker at the first Eurasian Ombudsman conference. The trip cost the city $1,922 but Crean said the expense was justified because Azerbaijan is a fledgling democracy and needs help learning about government accountability. Ford, the mayor's brother, said it wasn't the responsibility of Toronto taxpayers to "make sure Azerbaijan gets up and running."
"If a councillor went over to Azerbaijan, there'd be hell to pay," he told reporters after the meeting. "There's no accountability here."
The ombudsman came under heavy fire from Rob Ford's allies at a council meeting earlier this month after she published report concluding the mayor's office interfered with the civic appointments process.
The integrity commissioner has found the mayor violated council's code of conduct on several occasions, stretching back to his days as councillor for Ward 2. One of those reports has led to a conflict of interest case that could see the mayor removed from office.